This is the story of a little town that lived by the speeding ticket and died by the speeding ticket.
For years, Macks Creek was a notorious speed trap along the back roads of Missouri.The police in this no-stoplight town of 272 were said to spend most of their time pulling people over for not easing up on the gas enough as they came through Macks Creek on two-lane U.S. 54 on their way to and from the Lake of the Ozarks, one of the state's most popular tourist sites.
In the past few years, the police wrote an estimated 2,900 traffic tickets a year, or an average of eight a day, every day. By 1994, more than three-quarters of the town's annual revenue - or about $165,000 - was coming from municipal court fines alone.
"Oh, I'd hear a lot of complaints, from people all over the country," says Bonnie Evans, a friendly, white-haired woman who runs Bonnie's Restaurant, famous for its fried fruit pies. "A lot of people didn't even want to come through here because they'd already gotten a ticket or they knew someone who had."
In 1995, however, the state stepped in and passed a law proposed by a legislator who got stopped by Macks Creek police. It limited the amount of income a city could generate from traffic tickets to 45 percent of total revenue.
Three years later, Macks Creek is broke and about to file for bankruptcy protection. The town is around $160,000 in debt.
The town's police officers - four full-timers and one part-timer - were laid off more than a year ago. The radar guns and police cruisers they used to nail anyone who didn't slow, almost immediately, from 65 to 45 mph as they came into town have been sold or repossessed.
Deputies from the Camden County Sheriff's Department and troopers from the State Highway Patrol now protect Macks Creek.
The handsome brick City Hall has been turned into a senior citizens center staffed by a single volunteer who was busy swatting flies in the darkened building as she waited for seniors to arrive one morning this week.
Meanwhile, people in this friendly community of trees and rolling hills say they are angry and embarrassed. They are also deeply suspicious of what happened to all the money the town took in during the boom years.
"During that time we never even had a road paved," says Evans.
The man who got the law changed, Rep. Delbert Scott, says he is saddened by the town's financial trouble and didn't intend to push it into bankruptcy. But the law "accomplished its purpose in shutting down a famous speed trap."